Microforum Vinyl Pressing – Helping Us Uncompress Our Lives One Record At A Time: An Interview with Noble Musa.

Microforum WarmTone
Microforum’s First Production Line with the WarmTone.

Vinyl Cubes had the pleasure of discussing the new vinyl pressing services being offered by Toronto’s Microforum (http://microforum.ca/) with Noble Mussa.  While interest in and sales of vinyl records has rapidly growing (29% increase in sales last year), there are still risks associated with expanding into an area that is arguably on the trailing edge of technology.

According to Noble Musa, Microforum’s  VP of Sales and Marketing, CD reproduction has dropped off significantly with the emergence of digital and streaming formats for music.  While Microforum has continued to gain market share in the CD/DVD world and it continues to be a thriving part of their business, they have been considering entering into the vinyl pressing market for a few years.  There is a synergy to Microforum evolving into the world of vinyl pressing.  The company has a history of CD and DVD reproduction dating back to 2001.  This gives them experience in dealing with molding processes like vinyl pressing, running a full fledged manufacturing facility as well as dealing directly with artists in the final duplication process for music and video optical disc.
VC – Did Microforum’s interest in vinyl come before you heard about Viryl Technologies WarmTone press, or did this technology pique your interest in getting into vinyl pressing?
NM – “We’ve always kept a finger on the pulse of vinyl, but we were hesitant to get into it.  We were interested in vinyl before we ever heard of [Viryl Technologies].  We heard about machines being built in Germany and that started to stoke our interest more seriously.  It wasn’t easy to get into vinyl especially with the old equipment.  Frank [Stipo – partner / owner of Microforum] went down to a plant in the southern US that was for sale and basically with one look at it decided it really wasn’t for us.  The machines are forty / fifty years old and they’re just hanging on by a thread.  You really have to know the machines well to run them.  The up-keep of machines that old is hard.  You can’t find parts.  There are all kinds of obstacles including safety.  These machines wouldn’t pass in Canada.
We knew there was a market, we have the connections in the industry, labels are ready, the reseller base is ready from BC to the Atlantic.”
VC – When did you decide to go with the WarmTone?
NM – We were introduced to them through industry contacts.  We visited them but we didn’t jump in right away.  There was a point were Frank was visiting them once every week until we were sure they had something positive going.  As soon as they turned the corner and we saw that this machine was really coming together and was something that was definitely going to happen, we didn’t hesitate and signed right away.”
VC – What labels will you be working with?
NM – “We’re not ready yet to discuss specific labels, but we are working with a number of labels here in Toronto.  We’ve run some prototypes for them on the presses at Viryl about four months ago.  We’ve showed these to the labels we’ll be working with.
We signed in August [2016] and started sending samples to their prototype set up in October.  They started setting up our line in December.  We’ll have our first test runs this afternoon [January 31].
We have music reps across Canada.  They help artists get everything together for us – music, the covers and all the sign-offs to say that this is their music.  We have the country covered so if someone in Atlantic contacts us we can send them to our rep in the Atlantic and that rep can give them that extra service that you get one-on-one.  That makes it a better experience for everyone.”
VC – With HMV going into receivership, does this have much of an impact on vinyl sales and your business plan?
NM – Even a 29% increase in vinyl sales wasn’t enough to save them.  In that particular scenario they were already really debt-ridden.  Even from 2011 on – vinyl did come in there [HMV] but they weren’t the first to do this in a big way.  There’s a lot of competition out there.  A lot of small independent stores – Mom and pop shops.  And the Amazons of the music world.  Its tough for a boutigue chain like HMV to survive – they just weren’t nimble enough.”
VC – You’ve got the massive Amazon retailers and at the other end, the smaller independents.  Is this how you see vinyl retail continuing?
NM – “you’ve also got other on-line vinyl.  Even Walmart sells vinyl on-line.  More independents, too.  And you’re going to see more sales in big department stores with more retail pop-up vinyl stands.  There is a demand for it and a lot of interest.  Somehow these needs will be filled.”
VC – You’re going to have a capacity of six million records annually, but record sales in Canada were only half a million last year.  Is it a bit ambitious to target six million?
NM – Two things there.  Those numbers for sales don’t include all of the sales at shows.  The individual bands have runs of two or three thousand and sell them at their shows.  That’s a huge part of sales that goes unrecorded.  And then there’s used vinyl that is probably bigger than the new vinyl sales.
We have jobs and request that are coming from outside Canada, so we’re definitely not limited to sales inside Canada.
And we’re not limited to just the major labels.  We know from the CD side that there were a lot of CD sales by bands that were not registered.  There could be fifty bands in one city with each selling a thousand records – that’s huge.”
VC – Have you had to increase your staff with any specialized people to cover your new vinyl pressing abilities?
NM – No we have enough experts around the company.  We’re dealing with other companies for the lacquer stage and stampers.  Everything that goes around the record – the printing, the jacket and inserts – we have an in-house print shop.  It’s nothing new for us.
VC – Do you currently have any partnership with recording studios?
NM – No.  We don’t want to show any favoritism.  We want to be available to work with everyone.  We want musicians to feet free to work with whatever studio is best for them and then bring their stampers to us for pressing.
VC – When do you expect your first commercial production runs?
NM – We currently have more than two dozen jobs lined-up in the prototype line that are being sold [these are being pressed on the prototype production line at Viryl’s plant in Etobicoke].  They’re already out there being sold.  Most are smaller bands and artists.  It’s interesting, one of our first jobs we delivered in eight weeks and the email I got back was classic – I can’t believe we received a record before the launch date!
People have been waiting – been pushed back – it wasn’t unreasonable to have a four to six month turn around time, so when we did this job in eight weeks they were in shock.
We have two production line here and we’re supposed to be cranking them up this afternoon.
Note – In a follow-up email Noble reported a small set back that was quickly addressed by Viryl and the first commercial runs tooks place February 6 and 7.
VC – Can you tell me who will be your first production runs?
NM – We haven’t decided yet.  We’ll probably choose a smaller run first.  One or two hundred records.  We’re got a couple of larger runs of one, two and five thousand records, but we’ll probably save those until the smaller ones are done.  We don’t want to do a big job first because there is more chances of damaging a stamper if something is out of whack.  That would delay us by about a week.  We’ll look at which jobs have the most time available for the first runs.”
UPDATE – the first records are off the press and they are Harrow Fair’s “Call to Arms”.
From their web site:
“Harrow fair is Miranda Mulholland & Andrew Penner. One part stomping songs that echo early Country and Rock n Roll. The other gritty ballads that sound sweet and haunted. This duo’s evocative and rapidly expanding collection of songs are utterly foreign, oddly familiar and deeply gratifying. Debut Full-Length Album “call to arms” is out now.”
VC – Are you personally a vinyl collector?
NM – Yes absolutely.  There is just something about the sound.  I’ll be playing vinyl in my office at work and people automatically know its not the CD player or coming form my computer.  You can just tell – that rich, full, organic sound.  People notice that.  That’s just one of the reasons that people are rediscovering it.  Its also because its an immersive sound experience.  The whole act of dropping the needle and the beautiful art work.
Its this whole experience that`s lacking in the world right now.  With digital and streaming, its compressed – our lives are compressed.  It`s nice to be able to uncompress with the whole vinyl experience.  We don`t do that enough.  Vinyl is filling that void.